Acne Treatments That Work

Acne is the most common skin problem in the United States. It often appears as an outbreak of pimples on your face. But it can also show up on your chest, neck, back, or shoulders.

While you can cover a rash on your chest or arm with clothes, it's hard to hide bumps and blemishes on your face. Plus, they can be painful. They can affect your mood and make you self-conscious.

Acne happens when a pore gets clogged with oil and dead skin cells. It can affect people of all ages. But there are treatments that can help. The trick is finding what works best for you.

You Can Treat It

While a pimple will eventually go away, if you have outbreaks a lot, the skin problem that brings it on typically won’t go away by itself. And if you don’t treat it, you could end up with scars.

A skin doctor (dermatologist) can help. She might suggest a cream, lotion, gel, or soap that contains ingredients that can help. Many can be bought without a prescription:

  • Benzoyl peroxide kills bacteria and removes extra oil.
  • Resorcinol is for whiteheads and blackheads.
  • Salicylic acid keeps pores from getting clogged.
  • Sulfur removes dead skin cells.

For more serious acne, your doctor may prescribe:

You may need a combination of oral medicine and a cream or lotion. Don’t stop using your treatments if your skin clears. Stick with it until the doctor tells you to stop. This can help keep acne from coming back.

To Get Started

Benzoyl peroxide is the first product many people try, because it’s pretty easy on the skin. Typically, you’ll start with a lower strength no matter what medicine you use. This helps you get used to it. Your doctor can tell you if it’s time to try a higher strength or to switch to something different.

Be patient. It can take weeks to see results from any medication. Your acne may look worse before it gets better. Don’t be surprised if you get redness, burning, or dry skin from your acne medicines. If it’s serious, call your doctor.

You may need to try several different medicines before you find what works best for you.

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Other Kinds of Treatments

Along with oral medication, lotions, and creams, your doctor may also suggest:

  • Laser or other therapies that use light to treat blemishes
  • Chemical peels to remove dead skin cells
  • Surgical removal of large cysts that can’t be treated with medicine

These treatments can be done in the doctor’s office or as an outpatient at the hospital.

Some people use natural treatments like tea tree oil (works like benzoyl peroxide, but slower) or alpha hydroxy acids (remove dead skin and unclog pores) for their acne care. Not much is known about how well many of these treatments work and their long-term safety. Many natural ingredients are added to acne lotions and creams. Talk to your doctor to see if they’re right for you.

Be Good to Your Skin

Wash the area two times a day. Use a gentle cleanser, not soap. Don’t scrub too hard.

Or try cleansing wipes. These already have cleanser in them and are easy to use, then throw away.

Other skin tips:

  • Don’t use too much topical acne medicine -- apply just enough to cover problem areas.
  • Many acne medicines (benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and tretinoin) make your skin more sensitive to the sun.
  • Don’t use oily makeup, sunscreen, or hair products.
  • Don’t pick at or squeeze your pimples.
  • Keep your hair, hands, and phone off your face.

For men, shaving can irritate your skin and make acne worse. Try an electric razor, or be very careful with a blade.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on January 24, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: “Questions and Answers about Acne.”

American Academy of Dermatology: “Acne,” “How to shave.”

Mayo Clinic, Diseases and Conditions: “Acne, Causes,” “Acne, Over-the-counter acne products: What works and why,” “Acne, Are there any effective natural acne treatment options?”

Consumer Reports: “Review of acne treatments,” “Can some drugs make me more sensitive to the sun?”

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